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Thank You, LoCain

We all have our memories, the moments that stand out above the others. There are the obvious, of course. There are the big hits, the big outs, the celebrations. But as we all know, there were also plenty of little nuggets in those championship seasons. They aren’t necessarily on the highlight reels. Some are. Others should be, but may have been lost in the flurry of amazing moments of October.

In the aftermath of the Wild Card game in 2014, who knew what to expect? It was all so new. Or to an older generation of fans, a really long time. When the postseason continued with the ALDS in Anaheim, it felt like the Royals were playing with house money. Maybe it was a “damn glad to be here” vibe. Or maybe the euphoria from 48 hours prior hadn’t completely ebbed.

Based on what happened over the next 12-plus months, it is easy to forget how the ALDS started. With Jason Vargas on the mound, Cole Calhoun swung at a first pitch fastball and drove it to just right of center field. From the moment the bat connected with the ball, it had the makings of a disaster. Penance for a Salvador Perez grounder down the third base line.

Except there was Lorenzo Cain.

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It was an amazing catch in so many ways. From the distance Cain covered, to the timing of the jump, to doing it in the unfamiliarity of a ballpark where Cain had played center field only seven times prior over three seasons. And, most importantly, the necessity to get everything exactly right. Had Cain not made that catch, it’s not a stretch to imagine Calhoun could have opened the series with an inside the park home run. (You know how that can set the tone for a postseason series.) Cain was not going to let the Wild Card hangover get in the way.

It also gave us this:

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Cain made a diving catch on a sinking liner an inning later. He had a chance at a hat trick of web gems, but was robbed on a rare defensive highlight reel-worthy catch by Nori Aoki (his first of two in that game).

Cain’s reaction to Aoki’s catch was priceless.

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Of course, we can’t discuss Cain’s role on the Royals without the signature moment in Game Six of the 2015 ALCS. You know that Cain just scored from first base on an Eric Hosmer single when Jose Bautista lollypopped a throw to second base. You know that gave the Royals the margin they would need to close out the series three outs later.

That’s into right field… This ball is down. Going to third is Cain. Holding at first… Now Cain coming to the plate! ROYALS LEAD! He can fly!

What I will always, always remember from that moment was when Cain slid across the plate. How he leapt up in the air. How he elevated. He was propelled by jet fuel and lifted by 40,000 of the faithful. It was an experience. He went to first to home on a single to right field (not running on the pitch) in 10.2 seconds. That’s an otherworldly motor.

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Of course, it wasn’t first time Cain had gone from first to home in a series-clinching game that month. The man is simply a marvel of a ballplayer.

Cain signed with the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday. He will get $80 million over five years. It’s a helluva payday for a complete player, especially given the market this winter. His contract is the largest in both years and total dollars (so far). Offensively, Cain closes out his Royals career at .289/.342/.421 in just over 3,000 plate appearances. He led the team in WARP in each of the last three seasons and was second in 2014 to Alex Gordon. He’s not on a lot of top 10 lists when it comes to all-time Royals offensive categories, but that’s irrelevant when assessing his importance to this franchise.

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Cain arrived in Kansas City as part of the package for Zack Greinke, and the center fielder came to define these Royals. Eric Hosmer was the face of the franchise. Perez was the soul. But Cain was the motor. He was the ignitor. The guy who made damn near everything happen. The superior speed and defense with a good hit tool was part of it, for sure. But there’s some poetic justice in the best player during the Royals championship run coming over in a deal for the Royals best player during the barren years where losses were so plentiful the wins just didn’t matter all that much. Greinke wanted out of Kansas City because he didn’t see a way for the team to be competitive. Turns out, that trade opened the door to back to back Blue Octobers.

At the time, who knew what we would get? The mad dashes. The highlight reel catches. The lean backs. The limps. The reluctant foil to his hermanito, Salvador Perez.

Thank you, LoCain. It was perfect.

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